“Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.”
Camping can really suck. I understand how people can hate camping. We pack everything into the car after work on a Friday and join the mass exodus out of Calgary to the Alberta mountains known as K-country. Highway 1 is a parking lot because the house-on-wheels towing his boat behind his car behind his motorhome thought he was faster than everyone else on the road. Campbell’s canned soup rolls along the asphalt and into the ditch. Fishing gear is scattered across the highway. Rubberneckers gape, and roll by at walking pace. We crank up the tunes and we wait. Good thing we reserved a campsite because it looks like half of Calgary had the same idea as we did. Just as we pull into the spot that was advertised as a secluded forested oasis, but in reality is a glorified parking lot (only identifiable as a campsite by the rusted fire ring and busted picnic table), there is a clap of thunder and we feel the first. drops. of rain.
No matter. Always prepared, we string a tarp over the picnic table and ready ourselves for a delicious campfire meal: fire-roasted hot dogs & s’mores. What could be better? On the bright side, the rain seems to keep the deet-proof mosquitoes from sucking us dry. Also, there is a baby screaming from the poorly sound-proofed tent trailer next door and the thunderous downpour nearly drowns out its shrieks. Let’s start a fire! That wood we paid $20 bucks for? Before attempting to chop it, let me wring it out like a soaking wet sponge before dousing it in fuel – THEN, and only then, does a pathetic curl of smoke unfurl from the cold wet confines of the fire pit. We have flame! Good thing, since the temperature has dropped and I forgot to pack my long underwear, toque, and mitts (did Mother Nature forget it’s July?). Huddled under the tarp, daring to get as close to the fire as possible, we heat up the wiener sticks and prepare for a delicious campfire-cooked meal. Finally: wieners roasted, hot dog buns ready (albeit a bit soggy), mouths watering. Crap. Where’s the ketchup?
And then there’s the camping we all idealize. The reason we go in the first place. A serendipitous combination of clear blue skies, pristine mountain scenery, pine-scented air, delicious food, great company, birds chirping. Very rarely do we get to experience a near-perfect camping trip, but when we do, it makes it all worth it. We forget the rain and the pain, and breathe it in in huge hungry gulps.
This is exactly what I experienced during a recent backpacking trip to Elk Lakes Provincial Park, located on the BC side of the of the BC/Alberta border. Approaching from the Kananaskis side, the hike started out okay: actually I complained about the fact that we were trudging along a powerline access road. The views sucked. It was hot. My 30 lb backpack was already making my shoulders ache.
After about 10 kilometers of trudging, a gentle breeze stirred the leaves as we approached the apex that would mark our descent into the next valley. A radiant blue gem (Lower Elk Lake) sparkled in the distance, the trail graduated gently downwards. Could that be a bird I hear chirping? In short order we reached Upper Elk Lake, another blue jewel that rippled slightly in the gentle, pine-scented breeze. The lake, walled in on one side with stark, straight-up cliffs, was complemented on the opposite side with a lush foliage-rich forest, cradling a cushioned pathway that lead us along the lake shore. As we rounded a point along the shore, I could hear a dull roar that could only mean falling water. Scanning the scene before me, I quickly spotted 1, no 2, no 3 – a series of waterfalls flowing down the rock face, into the lake. Stunning. Continuing along, the scenery unfolded before us, each turn revealing landscapes better and more impressive than the last. We soon reached our destination for the night: the Petain Falls campsite, pitching our tent 10 feet from a rushing glacier stream, in the shadow of the Petain glacier that hosted a new curtain of waterfalls crashing down even higher and more expansive rock faces. The air by now was cool, the bugs humming, but not biting, other campers subdued, as we were, by the long hike and awe-inspiring scenery. I’ll admit, we had a simple meal consisting of store-bought pasta and alfredo sauce, with silty water to drink and a Snickers bar for dessert. Not perfect by most camper’s standards. But after a long, hot day, it was the most delicious pasta I could ask for, the coldest most refreshing water one could drink, and the sweetest, richest dessert imaginable. We settled into our sleeping bags that night, bone tired and slightly sunburned, feeling like we found our own personal piece of heaven.
I’ll spare you the details of the next two days, letting the photos (attempt to) do justice to this picturesque piece of British Columbia.